With two weeks to spare, a rental car, tent & portable stove, you can make a spectacular journey the full length and breadth of Iceland via the 1332 km of Route 1; the ring road that circles the island. It’s the perfect way to see Iceland - stop at the myriad, breathtaking spots; take detours wherever you want; sleep under the stars in the superbly-placed campsites across the island; and time your visits to avoid the tour coaches- you can have the glaciers, waterfalls, geysers and hot springs all to yourself!
In two weeks... we've traversed glaciers and skirted iceberg-filled lagoons. We've seen more waterfalls than we can count; walked up them, behind them, squeezed into crevices into which they fall and balanced on their precipices. We've driven through lava fields and over massive sand flats. We've scaled steep ravines, crossed snow-fields and wandered forgotten valleys. The epic landscape which is vaster and more dramatic than we could have imagined has left us frequently breathless.
We've been burnt to a red crisp by the sun and blown over by snowstorms. We've been enchanted by the midnight sun that soaks the earth a fantastical and otherworldly glow. We've soaked in beautiful hot springs and sweat in geothermal steam baths. We've relaxed in a hot pot by the sea, discovered a puffin colony and sighted whales. We've camped on a wind-swept coast, under a glacier, by a fjord and at a black sand beach. We've longed, without satisfaction, for lobster soup and were happy with our decision to bring our backpacks stuffed with food from home. We've cooked the freshest salmon steak on a portable stove in a lava fissure, ate goulash soup overlooking a cow shed (where cows were being milked for our upcoming coffee) and picnicked under a waterfall.
We've observed mud pots, skirted calderas and gazed into pestilential holes in the ground. Our nostrils have been filled with the sniff of sulphur and our eyes with steam spewing from the belly of the earth. Our faces have been misted by the first geyser in the world. We've visited churches which are not there, stayed in a Scandi-chic hotel and climbed turf houses. We've been charmed/shocked by the beautiful/ugly fishing villages, pleasured in the stark and lengthy absence of others, and sucked into the summer energy of Reykjavik. We've driven the length and breadth of Iceland and were mesmerised at every turn.
Iceland, June 2019
Traveling anti-clockwise from the airport in the southwest corner, this journal details the places that made us fall in love with this remarkable land!
Southwest: Reykjanes Peninsula
Start your day right with coffee and a "Fisherman's Treat" breakfast: fat pieces of smoked salmon, sweet pickled herring, a boiled egg, and rye bread. Cafe Bryggjan Grindavik.
Top spot! The Blue Lagoon. Massively touristy but well worth a 4 hour soak. You can even come directly from the airport for some major jet-lag recovery.
Reykjanesviti Lighthouse & Gunnuhver hot spring.
The Austurengjar geothermal park at Sultun will give you your first sniff of boiling, sulphurous mud pots and volcanic vents.
Drench yourself exploring these magnificent waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss & Gljufurarbui. Climb behind one and under the other.
The climb above the 62m Skogafoss is particularly magical.
Raging and boiling
Water plummets, down, earthbound
But now, as mist, flies
Short detour off Route 1 to Solheimajokull for your first taste of the many glaciers to come.
The black beach at Vik is striking and surreal. It's like stepping into a negative image of a beach.
Another detour off Route 1 to Pakgil, from where you can make a spectacular 1-day hike up to Maelifell (642m).
Passing the vast sandar of the south-east: silt, sand and gravel carried from the mountains by glacial rivers on their way to the sea.
Top spot! Skaftafell National Park: Walk up from the campsite to the view over Skaftafellsjokull glacier.
Skaftafell National Park: Black Falls, or Svartifoss, is striking for it's black basalt columns.
Skaftafell National Park: Beautiful turf roof houses at Sel and a lovely walk from the camp site will give you views over the Sandar and out to sea.
Top spot! Icebergs, breaking off Breidamerkurjokull glacier into Jokulsarlon Lagoon and out to see. Plus seals!
Circling up the southeast coast, on to the Eastfjords and their sprinkling of the loveliest, little fishing villages.
Stopping for coffee at the southernmost of the Eastfjords: Cafe Vid Voginn in Djupivogur on Berufjordur.
Seydisfjordur and a delicious lunch at the iconic Hotel Aldan.
Hot pots, puffin watching and long walks are well worth the longer detour to Borgarfjordur Eystri in the northeast.
A longer day of driving will take you from the Eastfjords up towards the north coast. A detour up a rough road to Dettifoss waterfall is a must. From here, continue your detour onwards to Husavik.
Whale watching & turf-roof houses at Husavik.
Top spot! Myvatn Nature Baths were one of our best soaks in Iceland.
Top spot! The steaming vents, mud cauldrons, glowing mineral deposits and piping fumaroles of Hverir are other worldly.
Top spot! Literal farm to table food in "The Cowshed", Vogafjos, in Myvatn. One of the best meals we ate in Iceland!
Because there's no such thing as too many waterfalls! Godafoss waterfall.
Another 1 or 2 day detour north from Route 1 around the Trollaskagi Peninsula will take you through Akureyri. A visit to the most northerly botanical garden in the world, Lystigardurinn, and its lovely cafe is recommended.
Siglufjordur may be of particular interest if you're a reader of the Dark Iceland murder mystery series!
Top spot! Another great hot spring soak and pool, with a breathtaking view towards the Arctic Circle: Sundlaugin in Hofsos.
Complete the tour of the Northfjords by ending the detour in Glaumbaer, where you can take a break at the ultra cute Askaffi tearoom.
Amazing coffees, boundless summer energy, quirky restaurants & boutiques and charming architecture.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a collection of interesting sights within easy reach of Reykjavik. The most famous of these is Geysir, the original geyser after which all others around the world were named. Can spray up to 30m!
Gullfoss waterfall is Iceland's most famous. Even if you're feeling like you've seen enough waterfalls for a lifetime, this is well worth a visit.
And in summary, our Top Ten Highlights:
Driving the Ring Road!
Midnight hiking in Skaftafell National Park with a thermos of green tea
Myvatn hot pool & steam baths
Epic views from the Ring Road along the South Coast
Soak in the hot pot by the sea at Borgarsfjordur Eystri
Mud pots & steam vents at Hverir
Exploring Reykjavik's quirky coffeehouses and bars
The delicious goulash at Vogafjos working farm & restaurant
Puffin watching at Borgarsfjordur Eystri